April 16, 2024

Landry: Lewis grateful and ready to win in Edmonton

Thomas Skrlj/CFL.ca

Eugene Lewis is not one to express envy. Envy, it seems, gets crowded out of his psyche by the gratitude he harbours. It’s a sense that has been heightened by recent personal experiences.

As the game-breaking Edmonton Elks receiver gets prepared for the 2024 season, I asked him to reflect on a number of things; On how he felt about the team he’d left surging to a storybook championship, on his injury-shortened 2023 campaign and on what makes him believe a renaissance is about to unfold with the Elks. As well, Lewis shared some personal thoughts on how an off-season trip with World Vision Canada to Kenya has profoundly affected him.

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Q: First, I’d like to reflect on last season a little bit before looking ahead. 2023 wasn’t a banner year for the Elks, while the team you left in free agency, the Montreal Alouettes, won the Grey Cup. Any regrets as you watched them make their run?

A: No, I never looked at it (with) any type of regret because I look at it like this; For one, I got paid what I thought I was worth and two, if I would have stayed in Montreal, some of the players might not have been there because of my contract that I would have gotten. So, you don’t know what could happen. But the thing I appreciate is when I first got to Montreal, we won three games, four games the second year. And we helped build that organization to get back to what it was, you know what I mean?

I’m happy for that city, man. Because they’ve been waiting for that for so long. I just gotta get a Grey Cup. That’s it.

Q: If getting to the top was not something you achieved as an Alouette, I imagine that desire still burns very bright for you in Edmonton, doesn’t it?

A: I want to help build and make this team, this organization get to where it has been once again. I love the fans. You can tell that they’re very, very committed. I trust in the coaches, I trust in all the players around me and we’ve all just got to trust in each other. At the end of the day, man, I’m just grateful. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to be in Edmonton. I’m here to win in Edmonton. Getting a Grey Cup is the number one goal.

Q: Last year you wound up playing two-thirds of a season due to a knee sprain, falling below a thousand yards in receiving. Are you setting any personal goals for 2024 in light of that?

A: My personal goal is always to do better than I did the year before. But obviously, last year, I had 845 (yards receiving) in twelve games. So, I’ve got to do better than I did in 2022 (91 receptions, 1,303 yards, ten touchdowns, all career highs). But ultimately, man, it’s whatever I’ve got to do to help my team win because that’s where I’m at in my career. I want to win a Grey Cup and everything else comes after that. Easily over 1,000 yards, trying to get fifteen (hundred). Ten to twelve touchdowns and things like that. But whatever I’ve got to do to help win each and every game, whatever the situation is, you know I’m here for it.

Q: That knee injury of yours. All good now?

A: An MCL sprain. Just a regular sprain, actually. It really wasn’t even that bad. They just ended up putting me on the six-game (injured list) and, you know, it was tough. That was the first time I’d really ever been hurt and had to sit out that many games before. But it was just something that I experienced and I’m glad that’s over. I’m feeling super, super good right now. So I’m good to go.

Lewis says he’s looking forward to winning a Grey Cup with the Elks (Christian Bender/CFL.ca)

Q: In your mind, why can this season be different, in Edmonton, than last season was?

A: I definitely think getting MBT (veteran quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson) is gonna help the team and it’s also going to help Tre (Ford) so much as a player and on how to be a pro quarterback. MBT has been through everything. He’s been in every league, won championships, played big games, won, lost, you know what I mean? I just feel like his experiences and the advice that he can give to Tre, that can take (Ford) to the next level and help him with his tangibles too. I feel like Tre is probably going to be the face of this league at some point in time and I think MBT is gonna help him. When he is the face of this league, he’s gonna be ready and he’s gonna be prepared for the moment.

Q: You’re being reunited with a former Alouette compatriot in kicker Boris Bede. Looking forward to that?

A: Yeah. I played with him for a few years and I know what he’s capable of doing. I know the leg that he has. And I’m excited to even be with him again, man. That was one of my good buddies (in Montreal). And now we’re gonna do it in Edmonton. He’s a vet too. So he’s gonna be ready to speak how he needs to speak. He just brings great energy.

Q: You’ve had an interesting off-season. I understand you recently returned from a trip to Kenya. How did that come about?

A: World Vision Canada, they collaborated with the CFL this year, and they basically go out to places that have hostile environments, and they go and help people that are in need, things like that. So I became a World Vision Canada Ambassador for the Elks. It was always something that I wanted to do. Going to Africa has always been a dream of mine.

Q: How was the experience?

A: It was an unbelievable experience for me, just seeing the things that I’ve seen. We’ve seen the slums, we’ve seen the trenches, we’ve seen little kids, one, two years old, walking by themselves, going to get water and things like that. So it really just opened my eyes on being grateful and it just showed me what a real community is.

And myself, coming up the way that I grew up, I came up with some poverty, too. So I’ve seen a difference in what poverty in America is and what poverty is in Kenya, and it’s two totally different things.

It just really opened my mind. It opened my eyes. I met some great people. Like Pastor Pauline.

The receiver went to Kenya as a World Vision Canada Ambassador for the Elks (Thomas Skrlj/CFL.ca)

Q: Can you tell me a little more about Pastor Pauline, and how she affected you?

A: She started with seven chickens. Started with seven baby chickens, a day old. And she raised them until they were four to five weeks. And then she sold them. So, she started with seven, she got to twenty, and now she’s at two hundred and she wants to get to a thousand. She was able to buy her son a motorcycle and now he’s able to transport the chickens further out and things like this. And she takes care of about ten kids and she’s helped over a hundred women, under the World Vision umbrella. It’s beautiful.

The main thing she said was that for her to build herself and where she’s at now, she had to reform her mind, reform her heart. Which helped reform her pockets. That was some of the greatest advice that I probably could have heard.

Q: Will you continue with World Vision Canada?

A: I’m definitely going to do more with World Vision. Dominique Rhymes did it last year. Every touchdown he scored, he donated to World Vision, and I’m gonna find a way to do that too. But, also, I want to go back out there. I want to go back to help and do more things. I want to be more physical in the sense of like, you know, I want to go out there and build a basketball court or build a football field. Help the soccer teams get some cleats and things like that. These are things I’m going to be trying to (organize) during the season, how we can help. And when we get back there we’ll be ready and situated from the very beginning.

Q: Can some of the lessons you learned on that trip be applied to the Elks locker room in some way, shape or form?

A: Going there and seeing how the community works, I want to bring that back to Edmonton. There shouldn’t be no more complaining. Just be grateful. Whatever the situation is, do your role, do your job. And if we all believe in each other, man, and we all build each other up, the sky’s the limit.

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